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Are you Prosperous or just Rich?

A while ago, I was attending a party at a friend’s house and as usual a gentleman, whom I had never met before, asked me whether the building he lived in was lucky or not. Generally, I hate discussing these things during my non-working hours but I humored him as I have especially strong views regarding that particular building.

I told him that the people who lived in this particular building were not only wealthy, but also prosperous, and the ones who had moved out continued being rich but not necessarily prosperous.

He looked confused and thought the loud music had contorted my words. Shouting above the din he asked, “Isn’t being wealth and being prosperity the same thing?” I sagely shook my head in a resolute no.

No, it is not the same thing. “Well, what’s the difference?” he asked.

I replied, “Wealth is a number, money in the bank, while prosperity is the capacity to enjoy that wealth.”

It took a little while before he understood my perspective. My belief is that there is a fine line between wealth and prosperity. This can be illustrated by the example of this very gentleman I met at the party. This gentleman belongs to a prominent Indian family that squabbles publically over their inheritance after the demise of their father. It is an open spat which has gotten uglier by the media attention it has garnered over the years. Even prior to this dispute, the deceased father of this family was very ill for the last several years of his life.

No amount of money was able to make his health better. So was he prosperous or just wealthy? My answer is, he was rich but by no means prosperous.

To understand this comparison better, look at the case of my driver. He is a simpleton who smiles through the day and is content with his life. One evening, while he was driving me back from the airport, we were discussing how comfortably he had settled in his new home, which is nothing more than a 100 square feet shanty. However, he was thrilled to finally have a separate room for himself that he did not have to share with anybody. He was also happy that his wife and 3-year old son were now living with him. His sister had just gotten married and for the moment he had all the joys of his life that he desired.

Except for one little thing. He believed in order to make his life perfect, all he needed was a color TV. I was amazed. He was living in a slum where he had to fight for water every day and sleep on a stone floor in the excruciating Mumbai heat and all he wanted to be happy was a color TV?

I promptly organized to give him an old TV set that we were not using and truly, he felt his life was perfect. It then struck me, that this man’s life was indeed perfect. He had everything he wanted and to my mind, he may not be conventionally rich but he was definitely prosperous.

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